Part of the Sur Biennial, as well as the Getty-led Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA series, Long Beach City College Gallery’s “Drawn From Clay” can’t be entirely encapsulated into one artistic medium or another. In a show containing paintings, sculptures and art performance, clay may be the most common factor, but it doesn’t really unite the disparate Latinx and Latin American artists involved. Even though curator Trevor Norris has gone out of his way to present the four artists as a blended whole, the seams are evident: The quality of the work varies considerably, there are pieces that don’t really belong, and the displayed works only speak to one another peripherally.
Yolanda Gonzalez’s gaudy trio of ceramics, Japonesa Chicana, resembles colorful cookie jars, the glazed threesome pink-cheeked and red-lipped, painted in dresses that resemble a mix of bustier and Mexican finery. The roughly painted pieces pale opposite the artist’s acrylic paintings. Out of place in what is otherwise a ceramic show, they use a limited number of brush strokes. The result is portraits of female friends (Diana in Stripes, plus two versions of Marissa in Flamenco Dress) that aren’t smooth, but they are vibrant and alive with color and personality. The paintings are bookended by a series of Gonzalez’s unattractive busts of severed women’s heads. Painted in mottled colors that give the heads the look of people dead from carbon monoxide poisoning, the sculptures are serviceable as memento mori, if that’s what they are, but they’re not something that would otherwise draw the eye.
In contrast, her four ceramic portraits (Anna, Jennifer I, Jennifer II and Jennifer III) are exquisite symbolic examples of women’s strength under pressure. Their faces painted on cracked and chipped pieces of clay, sometimes missing shards where their heart would be, the portraits are centered on dim, weathered wallpaper, imprisoned within the four sides of ornate black frames. A similar serenity is seen in the closed eyes and contemplative face of Marissa With Thorns, the painted surface inside of a bowl so large it occupies its own shelf near the front entrance.
The smooth gradations of black, white and gray in Wayne Perry’s ink-wash-on-paper portraits of his racially mixed family also don’t belong in the show, despite their basis as preliminary paintings for larger illustrations inside eight handmade bowls. The bowls work brilliantly as symbols of the beauty and fragility of relationships, as well as the nurturing aspect of food in both black and Latinx culture, but the portraits inside are distorted by the concave surface of the objects, which mangles their intimate perspectives. It’s a sharp divergence opposite the clean, commanding lines of Perry’s linocuts, which, like Gonzalez’s painting, don’t really belong in the show, despite their beauty.
Splitting the room in two is Fay Ray’s installation “A Dotted Wall.” Upraised boils, Pollacked with black paint, break out from the drywall as if a gray rash. The monochromatic “dots” give the otherwise-flat surface dimension and texture, even if they remind one of avant-garde versions of the faux-rock holds on the climbing wall of a random sports center.
A pile of broken pottery in the center of the first part of the gallery is blocked off by a thick square of red tape. Don’t waste too much time hypothesizing about what the concept behind it could mean. It’s not the Tower of Babel under construction, a backhanded symbol of bureaucratic mismanagement, or a prescient statement about earthquakes and infrastructure. Instead, it’s the aftermath of the loud smack, smash and crumble that you hear echoing overhead.
Walk behind Ray’s installation, where Armando Cortes’ loud video documentation of his performance is projected along its length. In the center of the three screens comprising the video, the young artist’s long hair is braided and tied to two clay pots that he holds silently in each hand. Watching A Descansar en la Gloria (Rest in Glory), you can see his shoulders and forearms begin to vibrate from fatigue; as he eventually releases them, the pots crash into each other, a defective Newton’s Cradle. The remaining parts of the video are variations of the same image: one of Cortes nodding and bowing his head to chip and break a pot on the floor in front of him, another particularly alarming one of him swinging a single pot around his head, as he almost brains himself in the process. The performance plays as an admonition against being literally tethered to one’s past, as well as a hopeful incitement to break free.
“Drawn From Clay: Armando Cortes, Yolanda Gonzalez, Wayne Perry and Fay Ray” at Long Beach City College Art Gallery, 4901 E. Carson St., Ste. K100, Long Beach, (562) 938-4815; www.lbcc.edu/artphoto/gallery. Mon. & Thurs., 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., noon-8 p.m.; also Oct. 7, noon-4 p.m. Through Oct. 12. Free.